Somebody sent me a picture of this bird on Facebook. I believe its proper name is a “Silver Eared Maltesia,” which sounds like a medication you take for the clap. One often sees these birds in the Asian bird markets, where they are sold tethered to sticks as cage birds; a stupid and cruel practice which I wish would cease. In fact, I wish all trafficking in exotic birds would be outlawed. I’ve never understood the instinct of people who would cage a creature meant to fly. It seems contrary to the creature itself, and identifies a deep and abiding cruelty.
This is actually a Riverside wren, a little bird endemic to Costa Rica and Central America. It is endangered because of shrinking habitat and climate change. The State of the Bird Report from the ABA came out last month with some dire and sobering results regarding the expected extinction of hundreds of songbirds in the next decade, which will be devastating to our ecosystem and a grim reminder of what “progress” has robbed us of. . .
For the past 20 years, I’ve had the privilege of making the cover art for Steve Earle’s CD and album covers. The new one, Terraplane, is a blues record, and it is a knock-out. It is named for the old car that Nash used to make; one that blues men referred to as, “The Money Ride.”
My pal Penn Jillette once owned a vehicle named Pink Death. It was a Ford Bronco painted a color Penn invented, called “Stripper Inner Labia Pink.” So candy-colored pink was this car, that the guy at the body shop made Penn stand there and watch as they gave his formerly butch truck something like a hundred coats to get it the right blush of “Inner Labia Pink,” which is, “Stripper.” There is actually a paint-chip named Stripper.
Damn I love this country.
I spent a week zipping around Vegas with Penn on assignment from Playboy and it was a holy hoot watching people’s reactions to Pink Death. It were as if the goddamn thing were radioactive. Even twenty years ago in Vegas this was regarded as weird.
Penn is full of funny traits and quirky observations; one of the benefits of being his friend is, though we are polar opposites in some of our political beliefs, we never fail to crack each other up. He is also one of the smartest people I’ve ever known with a searching intellect and endlessly inquisitive mind that wants to know the nuances of every single thing that interests him.
For years, Penn and Teller have had a bit where a rabbit winds up in a chipper and for years, Penn convinced me that they actually just threw the fucking rabbit into the chipper. “Rabbits are CHEAP,” Penn would explain, and I believed him. That’s a bad habit of mine; believing Penn when he’s pulling my joint.
He once staged an elaborate subterfuge to get me to believe that everyone we knew got a discount from Federal Express, except me. He surreptitiously emailed all of my friends to get them to go along with the gag and I believed them.
So, like an asshole, I called FedEx and asked them if they thought I was a fucking mark. I told them that I used FedEx almost everyday and that I should get the discount that my friends enjoy.
They asked me what I was referring to. That while they valued my business, their rates were their rates and everyone paid the same. I told them I wasn’t some douche-bag or a mark; that I knew how this game was played and I wanted in on the discount, and to quit working my stick.
The woman, Nora, assured me that there was no secret discount and that I was mistaken, which just infuriated me. I started yelling, “I’m not a sucker, lady. I’m not some fucking hick you can jerk-off like Dickie Dope. I’m not a mark.” And I added “Now don’t fuck around with me Nora. I’m in no mood!”
She asked me who told me this and I said all of my friends had told me, in fact, Penn…
PENN! Mother-fucker. That Mother-fucker.
Then I got it. I swear I could hear him laughing his Newfie ass off all the way from Vegas.
The “Tony Called FedEx” story was born and all of my friends know it. And at every opportunity Penn relates it, with great relish and much embroidery to entertain all who are present, including me—the Sap who called FedEx.
I used to draw rabbits for my mother. As a kid, my sisters had them as pets and they got huge. They were also not as gentle as you might think. I saw one of our bunnies kick the holy dog-shit out of a wild rabbit that had come into the yard and attempted to eat some of his food. They’re nasty little fuckers and territorial as hell. Whenever I felt the need to get out of the doghouse with my mom, I’d draw her a rabbit or a bird and she would then become convinced of my better side long enough to get me out of the house and back on the street with my friends. I was good at charming my mother. I once sold her a baggie full of Cheerios by telling her they were “donut seeds.” She gave me a buck. Even I, as a child had some of the Penn Jillette carny-trash in me.
In the city where I live, you mostly see squirrels, though lately I’ve noticed a lot more rabbits. I like them. I love drawing their odd shape and when I spot one, the stillness of them is almost eerie. Often they freeze right in the middle of the road and get creamed, which is kind of a dumb-fuck way to get killed. At least squirrels run away.
I found out later that Penn and Teller don’t kill the rabbits—cheap or not, they actually treat them quite well. As Penn explained, “Hey, the little fuckers work six shows a week.”
I’ve kind of been quietly making an etching alphabet of songbirds. The first idea was to make them pretty, pretty, pretty, and then I thought about the nature of Nature–it’s not all pretty–and then the hideous habitat destruction we’ve inflicted on songbirds and every other creature the landscape attempts to sustain, and the pictures have become a bit tougher and more wild, and maybe more true. We’ll see.
“B”is for Baltimore Oriole.
All over the west and south sides of Chicago there are still live poultry shops. It only now occurs to me that I’ve never actually been in one. Americans are particularly squeamish this way– we never want to look the creature we’re about to slaughter in the eye. We’d rather see it fried with some biscuits and gravy on a plate, or in nugget form in a small styrofoam box; or even better, chopped up with a bunch of vegetables in some soup. We’re not much for the blood and the feathers and the screeching death that comes along with butchering poultry.
A number of people in the city have begun to keep chickens in their yards in Ukrainian Village they raise their own eggs and I have to admit it is kind of heartening to see a plump chicken or two walking the alleyways. You want to warn them that: feral cats, large rats, raccoons, and now coyotes also now walk these alleys, and would gladly feast on them; but then you notice these are some big-assed chickens and when you get right up close and look them in the eye? You see all of the madness in the world.These chickens are Chicago chickens and they just might be able to hold their own.